NBA Western Conference Standings Predictions

After the draft and free agency frenzy have ended, the NBA enters the summer’s dog days. Looking ahead to the 2016-17 season, predictions of which teams will come out on top can be made (Featured picture corutesy of Best Online Sports Books)

By Neal Doshi (’17)

  1. Los Angeles Lakers: Entering the first season of the post-Kobe Bryant era, the Lakers have made the necessary moves to augment their young core. Draft picks Brandon Ingram and Ivica Zubac will experience their rookie growing pains, but should be key pieces of the rotation from the start. Newcomers Luol Deng, Jose Calderón and Timofey Mozgov should help them increase their win total by a few games, but it is tough to see the Lakers finish outside of the basement of the Western Conference.

Projected Starters: PG: D’Angelo Russell, SG: Jordan Clarkson, SF: Brandon Ingram, PF: Luol Deng and C: Julius Randle

  1. Phoenix Suns: For the past few seasons, the Suns have been in the same situation: a talent log-jam in the backcourt combined with a talent depletion in the frontcourt. The backcourt looks as strong as it has ever been, with Eric Bledsoe returning after tearing his ACL and Devin Booker emerging as an up-and-coming shooting guard. Although the frontcourt has more promise with draft picks Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss entering the fold, both aren’t expected to contribute right away, and the Suns’ tradition of imbalance between these two parts of their roster looks to continue. Expect a slightly improved record, but another season of mediocrity in Phoenix.

Projected Starters: PG: Eric Bledsoe, SG: Brandon Knight, SF: PJ Tucker, PF: Marquese Chriss and C: Tyson Chandler

  1. New Orleans Pelicans: After reaching the playoffs in 2014-15, the Pelicans took a significant step back last season as injuries cost key rotation players playing time. Unfortunately, the storyline continues to be the same heading into this season, as Jrue Holiday and Quincy Pondexter are still expected to miss the early parts of this year’s campaign. The Pelicans improved their bench as they added E’Twaun Moore and Terrence Jones, however the lack of multiple reliable scoring options as well as inconsistent health will prevent them from reaching the standard they set two seasons ago.

Projected Starters: PG: Tim Frazier, SG: Buddy Hield, SF: Solomon Hill, PF: Anthony Davis and C: Omer Asik

  1. Sacramento Kings: The Kings continue to be a mystery as the team looks to win now at the expense of the future. Their draft picks raised eyebrows amongst many as they selected big men Georgios Papagiannis and Skal Labissière despite selecting a center last year and having All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins on the roster. Arron Afflalo and Anthony Tolliver are solid acquisitions in free agency, but will stunt the growth of Ben McLemore and Willie Cauley-Stein respectively. The Sacramento Kings will, in all likelihood, stay sub-par and continue their longstanding playoff drought this upcoming season.

Projected Starters: PG Darren Collison, SG: Arron Afflalo, SF: Matt Barnes, PF: Rudy Gay and C: DeMarcus Cousins

  1. Denver Nuggets: The Nuggets have one of the best collections of young talent in the league. Jamal Murray should be able to step in and provide microwave scoring off the bench. Sophomore Nikola Jokić will likely take the next step forward and entrench himself as the long-term center. While they did not make any significant free agent acquisitions, they do boast an abundance of dependable options at every position. Though the Nuggets will have to compile their assets to take a significant step forward, they will improve heading into the 2016-17 campaign.

Projected Starters: PG: Emmanuel Mudiay, SG: Jamal Murray, SF: Danilo Gallinari, PF: Kenneth Faried and C: Nikola Jokić

  1. Dallas Mavericks: Although they striked out on Mike Conley and Hassan Whiteside in free agency, the Mavs still had a solid offseason by signing Harrison Barnes and trading for Andrew Bogut. However, it remains to be seen if the Mavs can be competitive next season. Most of their key contributors-Dirk Nowitzki, Deron Williams and JJ Barea-are in their 30s. Additionally, Harrison Barnes was mostly  a fourth scoring option in Golden State and fellow wing Justin Anderson, while a promising prospect, is not a real game-changer yet. Expect the Mavs to snap their current streak of playoff berths and begin to rebuild for the future.

Projected Starters: PG: Deron Williams, SG: Wesley Matthews, SF: Harrison Barnes, PF: Dirk Nowitzki and C: Andrew Bogut

  1. Minnesota Timberwolves: The Timberwolves have formed one of the best young cores in the entire Association. They own back-to-back Rookie of the Year recipients in Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, and a top prospect in fifth overall pick Kris Dunn. Having veterans Jordan Hill and Cole Aldrich provides Minnesota with the frontcourt depth they need following the retirement of Kevin Garnett. Lastly, with defensive savant Tom Thibodeau joining the fold and finally giving them coaching stability, the Timberwolves will almost surely be one of the most improved teams next season, and may see themselves in the thick of the playoff race.

Projected Starters: PG: Ricky Rubio, SG: Zach LaVine, SF: Andrew Wiggins, PF: Gorgui Dieng and C: Karl-Anthony Towns

  1. Houston Rockets: It was not too long ago that the Rockets and Warriors were battling in the Western Conference Finals. While the team did not have a first round pick and lost Dwight Howard in free agency, the offseason was not a failure. General Manager Daryl Morey made some shrewd moves to reinvigorate the franchise, adding Ryan Anderson, Eric Gordon and Nene. However, these moves only negate the loss of Howard, and leave Houston in the same spot it was in last year when they stumbled to a disappointing first round exit.

Projected Starters: PG: James Harden, SG: Eric Gordon, SF: Trevor Ariza, PF: Ryan Anderson C: Clint Capela

  1. Oklahoma City Thunder: Only three months ago, the Thunder were up 3-1 on the Golden State Warriors, just one game from the NBA Finals. However, the Warriors rallied to win the series, and eventually the services of OKC’s best player: Kevin Durant. Durant’s departure creates a void that cannot be filled. Though his exit cripples the Thunder’s title hopes, the team still has a top-5 player in Russell Westbrook, a defensive anchor in Steven Adams, and a play-making guard in Victor Oladipo to keep them in the postseason run.

Projected Starters: PG: Russell Westbrook, SG: Victor Oladipo, SF: Kyle Singler, PF: Domantas Sabonis and C: Steven Adams

  1. Memphis Grizzlies: After holding the record for most players dressed in a season (28) this past campaign, the Grizzlies sought much-needed stability in the offseason. They started off strong by replenishing their youth in the draft with prospects Wade Baldwin and Deyonta Davis. During free agency, they further stabilized their roster for the future by handing four and five year maximum contracts to Chandler Parsons and Mike Conley respectively. After an extremely successful summer, the Grizzlies should continue to be a perennial playoff squad.

Projected Starters: PG: Mike Conley, SG: Tony Allen, SF: Chandler Parsons, PF: JaMychal Green and C: Marc Gasol.

  1. Utah Jazz: The injury bug hit Salt Lake City hard as Alec Burks, Dante Exum and Rudy Gobert all missed extended playing time. After a disappointing 2015-16 campaign, Utah looks to make a huge leap heading into next season. The club traded for defensive stud George Hill to give themselves consistency at the starting point guard spot. Bringing in veterans Boris Diaw and Joe Johnson gives the team playoff experience, and despite the early loss of Gordon Hayward, expect the Jazz to have a breakout season and contend for home court advantage throughout the playoffs.

Projected Starters: PG: George Hill, SG: Rodney Hood, SF: Gordon Hayward, PF: Derrick Favors and C: Rudy Gobert

  1. Portland Trail Blazers: After losing four of their five starters last season, Portland put the league on notice by returning back to the playoffs and advancing to play Golden State in the conference semis. The Blazers took care of business this offseason by re-signing Meyers Leonard, Allen Crabbe and Moe Harkless. They also managed to improve their bench by adding playmaking swingman Evan Turner and defensive-minded Festus Ezeli. Hats off to Neil Olshey and the front office for building a perennial playoff team that should only get better in the years to come.

Projected Starters: PG: Damian Lillard, SG: CJ McCollum, SF: Al-Farouq Aminu, PF: Moe Harkless and C: Mason Plumlee

  1. Los Angeles Clippers: After another failed attempt at a Western Conference Finals berth, the Clippers needed to improve the team this offseason. The Clippers were able to take care of in-house business as they re-signed Austin Rivers, Luc Mbah a Moute and Jamal Crawford. Bringing in veteran depth in Raymond Felton and Marreese Speights gives the second unit energy and scoring. While the team is certainly improved, the players will need to take a step forward to convince the front office that they can contend for a title, and to preserve the core for future seasons.

Projected Starters: PG: Chris Paul, SG: JJ Redick, SF: Alan Anderson, PF: Blake Griffin and C: DeAndre Jordan

  1. San Antonio Spurs: After 18 inspiring seasons, all-time great Tim Duncan has decided to call it a career. While the loss of Duncan is expected to create a production drop-off, General Manager RC Buford swapped out one future Hall-of-Famer for another by signing All-Star Pau Gasol. After losing two backups, the Spurs acted quickly to sign Dewayne Dedmon and David Lee. Though it is unlikely the Spurs will be able to replicate last season’s success, a roster with three 2015-16 all-stars will almost certainly continue San Antonio’s playoff streak.

Projected Starters: PG: Tony Parker, SG: Danny Green, SF: Kawhi Leonard, PF: LaMarcus Aldridge and C: Pau Gasol

  1. Golden State Warriors: Is it possible for the team that broke the NBA’s single-season wins record to improve? The Golden State Warriors look to answer that question. Adding Kevin Durant to a roster already featuring the 2-time reigning MVP in Stephen Curry should take the Warriors to another level. Though the team lost considerable depth in result of adding KD, veterans Zaza Pachulia and David West signed cheap deals to help bring some of that depth back. Despite forming arguably the best starting lineup ever, Golden State is coming off a 73-9 regular season, forming the question: How much can this team really improve?

Projected Starters: PG: Stephen Curry, SG: Klay Thompson, SF: Kevin Durant, PF: Draymond Green and C: Zaza Pachulia

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